Portland, Oregon inmates trying yoga

8:43 PM, Mar 20, 2013   |    comments
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By Nicole Doll

PORTLAND, Ore. (KPTV/CNN) - You've probably heard of men pumping iron in prison, but one institution in Oregon is trying something a little different: yoga.

Mondays at 7:30 p.m. Gina Kieval's yoga class is packed mat to mat.

The class so popular, it has a wait list of six months.

But there are no suburban mommies here, these yogis are inmates.

Once a week volunteer instructors from Living Yoga teach a 90-minute class in a small chapel at the Columbia River Correctional Institution, a 570-bed minimum security facility in Portland.

At a place where pumping iron on the yard is expected, behind locked doors and razor wire, these men are learning to breathe.

"It's about the mind and the body and kinda getting it all under control and finding peace inside of you," said A.J. Martinez.

Self-awareness was not Maritnez's goal when he signed up for yoga. It was just a way to pass the time.

Martinez, along with fellow inmate Dane Jensen, had never been exposed to yoga before.

"I knew my rich brother did it, his wife. Really in the circle I ran around with, not a lot of yoga going on," said Jenson. "Right off the bat it took me to some other place than here."

Kieval, who has practiced yoga for 11 years, says she had no pre-conceived ideas about what to expect when she began teaching yoga to male inmates.

In fact, she says she feels almost "selfish" for all she gets in return.

"I don't have an agenda but I do like to encourage them to be empowered to think for themselves. Why am I here, why am I on this mat?" said Kieval.

The class is all volunteer and no public funding is used.

Several university studies have found that prison yoga and meditation classes can lower aggressive behavior and reduce re-incarceration rates.

Corrections officers here have seen a change.

And when these inmates are released, many say plan to continue their practice.


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